You thought you were fluent in French but don't understand Canadian French? It happens to French people too! They wouldn't know either what "babiche" or "tiguidou" mean. And they certainly wouldn't use "tabarnak" when they are angry!
Quebecois, or Canadian French, is the result of Classical French, imported in North America in the 16th century by the French colonists, mixed with American English and Amerindian influences. While travelling around in Quebec, you will come across vocabulary and sayings that are specific to French Canadians. The language used by Quebecois reflects both their openness to the world and their strong attachment to their roots.
The differences between French from France and French from Canada are mainly in pronunciation. But some Canadian French words and expressions are local specialties. As for Canadian French swear words, you will notice that they mainly refer to Christian rites or objects. While French swear words are almost always related to sex or sexual behaviours.
We've compiled a list of the most commonly used Canadian French words and sayings to help you talk like a native. You can keep them in your pocket by downloading French Translator & Dictionary + by Vidalingua for free on your iPhone or Android. 📲
achaler – to annoy
This verb probably comes from the verb "chaloir" which meant "to pester" in old Norman dialect.
babiche – snowshoe
This Quebec word comes from the Algonquian word "ababich" which describes a type of traditional rope made by indigenous American Indians.
binne – bean
This typical word from Quebec is an anglicism that comes directly from the English word "bean".
bobettes [plural] – knickers, pants, panties (i.e. women's or men's underwear)
The origin of this word is quite a mistery. The most likely hypothesis is that it would come from the English verb "to bob".
boucane – smoke
This word comes from the verb "boucaner" which means "to expose meat or fish to smoke" in order to preserve it.
calisse - holy fuck
Like most Quebec swear words, it's blasphemous. It refers to the word "chalice" and its use is similar but stronger than the word "crisse" here after. It can be translated as "holy fuck".
caribou – caribou, reindeer
"Caribou" would come from the Indian word "xalibu" which means something like "the one who uses his hooves as a shovel". As a matter of fact, caribou scrape the snow with their feet to find food underneath.
champlure – tap
This Quebec word certainly comes from the word "chante pleure" which was a kind of funnel with a long pipe pierced with holes to let liquids flow into a barrel or tank.
char – car
This term does not come from the English word "car" but refers to "chariot", a two-wheeled Roman carriage coupled to horses.
chaudron – cooking pot
People in Quebec keep on using this middle-aged word to describe a container that is used to heat water or food.
chien-chaud – hot dog
A literal translation of its English version.
clavardage – chat
This French Canadian word is a portmanteau-word of purely Quebec origin composed of the words "clavier" ("keyboard") and "bavarder" ("to chat").
cotteur - sidewalk
This term refers to the strip of concrete bordering the streets, i.e. "à côté" ("next") to the road.
crisse - holy shit, Christ
Like most Quebec swear words, it's blasphemous. Its use is similar to the one of "calisse" but it's a bit more gentle. It could be translated as "Christ" as "crisse" or "holy shit".
espadrille – sport shoe, sneaker
This words is certainly the result of a confusion with the first canvas tennis shoes.
facture – bill (at the restaurant) or receipt
foufounes [always plural] - buttocks
A dangerous false friend as "foufoune" means "pussy" in France!
frencher – to French kiss
gazer – to gas up
This Canadian French verb is the gallicised version of the American English verb "to gas up".
gazer – to have gas, to fart
gosses [plural] – balls, bollocks
Another false friend you'd better get to know in order to avoid very awkward situations as "gosse" means "kid" in French slang...
ivressomètre – breathalyser
"Ivresse" meaning "drunkenness", this is the name of the device used for estimating blood alcohol content. In other words, to measure somebody's drunkenness. Let's call a spade a spade!
jambette – trip
Often related to sports, this Quebec word relates to a leg ("jambe") work intended to destabilize the opponent.
laveuse - washer, washing-machine
linge – household linen
liqueur – soda
Dangerous false friend! In Quebec, children drink liqueurs i.e. soft drinks.
magasinage – shopping
This word is built like its English equivalent i.e. "magasin" ("shop") and the suffix "age" that is often used to show an action. Very different from its "French from France" version which means "retail stocking" and has thus nothing to do with leisure.
maringuouin - mosquito
French settlers borrowed the Tupi word "maringuouin" from an indigenous people of Brazil in the 16th century. It is still used by Quebeckers even though the word "mosquito" is gaining ground.
osti - an equivalent of the f-word
Another blasphemous word as "osti" or "sti" comes from the French word "hostie" which means "host". This French Canadian swear word is used like the f-word in English.
pinotte – peanut
This typical Quebec word is anglicism coming from the word "peanut". Like in English, the plural form of "pinotte" means of low value.
plotte - cunt
This is a word for the sex of a woman. It's funny to know that this word comes from the French term "pelote" which means a ball of wool.
robeur – tire
Another anglicism coming from the word "rubber".
sacrament - dammit
One of Quebec's gentler swear words. Its origin is obviously again in the Christian rites.
siffleux – marmot
This word is a Quebec specialty coming from the verb siffler" which means "to whistle".
souper – dinner
tabarnak - another equivalent of the f-word
Another blasphemous word that refers to the "tabernacle" which is the small piece of furniture where the hosts are stored.
tiguidou - awesome, great
This word is a pure Quebec creation whose origin is obscure. The most plausible theory is that it's a variation of the Scottish expression "tickety-boo" which means "to go slowly, but surely".
attendre que le curé se mouche - to take your time
Literally: to wait for the priest to blow his nose
avoir de la broue dans le toupet - to be snowed under
Literally: to have foam in your hair
avoir de l'eau dans la cave - to wear trousers too short
Literally: to have water in the cellar
avoir la fly à l’air - to have your fly open
Literally: to have your fly in the air
avoir du front tout le tour de la tête - to have some nerve
Literally: to have a forehead all around the head
avoir de la mine dans le crayon - to be a horny devil
Literally: to have lead in one’s pencil
avoir une montée de lait - to lose your rag
Literally: to have a milk rise (i.e. to be in lactation)
avoir son voyage - to be at the end of your tether
Literally: to have one's trip
baiser le cul du diable quand il est frette - to strike while the iron is hot
Literally: to kiss the devil's ass when it's cold
ça vient de s'éteindre - period, end of story
Literally: it's just gone out
caller l’orignal - to have a hangover
Literally: to call the moose
se calmer le pompon - to stay cool
Literally: to calm one's pompom down
cogner des clous - to fight off sleepiness
Literally: to bang nails
donner son 4% - to lay somebody off
Literally: to give somebody his/her 4%
être vite sur ses patins - to be quick off the mark
Literally: to be quick on one’s skates
faire du pouce - to hitch-hike
Literally: to make some thumb
se faire prendre pour une valise - to be taken for an idiot
Literally: to be taken for a suitcase
faire du train - to make a lot of noise
Literally: to make a train
Franchement Armand ! - That's taking the piss!
Literally: frankly Armand
niaiser avec la puck - to bit about the bush
Literally: to tease the puck
osti de câlisse de ciboire de tabarnak - holy shit, fucking hell
Literally: Host of chalice of ciborium of tabernacle
(A highly blasphemous Quebec expression as each word of it refers to Christian rites.)
ne pas lâcher la patate - to hold on tight
LIterally: not to give up the potato
se paqueter la fraise - to get punch drunk
Literally: to wrap your strawberry up
parler à travers son chapeau - to talk through one’s hat
Literally: to talk through one’s hat
passer la nuit sur la corde à linge - to stay up all night
Literally: to spend the night on the washing line
péter de la broue - to show off
Literally: to blow from the foam
se pogner le bacon/le beigne - to hang around
Literally: to catch one's bacon/donut
tomber des peaux de lièvres - to snow heavily
Literally: to fall rabbit skins
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If you want to learn more typical French vocabulary and expressions, check out these articles
- French Swear Words
- Funny French Idioms
- French Slang Words & Phrases
- French Songs to Learn the Language
- French Love Words and Sayings
- French Internet Slang
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À tantôt ! (See you soon!)
Lead French linguist